April of my senior year arrived, and with it, my acceptances to Augusta State ("Of course," I thought), Wake ("Yay! Where do I sign?!"), and Virginia ("I'm so flattered, but no."). Then we took a look at financial aid packages. Well. Hm.
UVa had been more generous than Wake. My parents and I decided it was worth a visit to UVa to do our due diligence (before committing to Wake Forest, as I knew I would be doing!). Virginia was a 7 or 8 hour drive from Augusta, so it would have to be pretty impressive to compensate for that distance from my home.
Both UVa and Wake had special days for accepted students in April. My parents, my little sister, and I headed to Virginia first, arriving in Charlottesville around 10:00 pm, searching for a place to stay and not really getting any sense of the school or town in the dark.
My memory jumbles the chronology of my first visit to Virginia. These are the highlights:
- Although it was raining (sometimes the kiss of death on a campus tour!), the campus--no, GROUNDS! were beautiful. I could picture myself walking the Lawn, reading in the Pavilion Gardens, going to concerts in Old Cabell Hall, attending classes in beautiful New Cabell (that last one is a bit of UVa humor for those who have actually seen New Cabell--have they torn that down yet??).
- The place is steeped in history and tradition. All that "Mr. Jefferson says..." and "We call them 'first years' not 'freshmen'" stuff--I gobbled it up.
- The classics department was seriously unimpressed with me. I was a little miffed at first, but then I remembered that I didn't want my college major to be a cake walk. As I rattled off my Latin and Greek background, the classics professor's response was along the lines of, "Yeah, that's about average around here." Starting in UVa Classics, I would be prepared but challenged.
- We visited Monticello on Thomas Jefferson's birthday. Talk about a sign!
- The vibe of the student body on grounds felt right to me, like I would find a place there and find people I could relate to.
After leaving Virginia, we went to Wake for its accepted student event. When the opening meeting was over, my mom turned to me and said, "We don't need to stay here, do we?" [How do moms always know??] We headed home and I promptly sent my deposit to the University of Virginia.
I'll conclude these reminiscences about my own college path with the same message I started with: Visit schools! Start visiting early, and keep visiting places that may interest you. Once acceptances come in, visit each choice again. Trust your instincts about a school, and trust the insights from those who know you.
My infatuation with Wake evaporated when I decided to love Virginia. It's hard to love what you've never seen. Go and see some places!